By the time this goes up on the site, I’ll be somewhere en route to California to the Bioneers conference in San Rafael. The coffee company my wife’s family owns and operates needed a few extra bodies to man their trio of locations at the event, and so I was conscripted for active duty. It’s funny to think, living as relatively close as I do, but this will be the first time that I will have given northern California more than a passing glance in a speeding car.
It seems to be a recurrent theme, because I had already been planning to visit the Bay Area for the first time ever at the beginning of November, where my wife will be speaking at the GreenFestival. Just as a Non-Traditional Sports Fan in America has a need to experience something out of the ordinary in the sports world sometimes, so too is a voyage to new lands — and whether in your virtual backyard or halfway around the globe, a new experience is a new experience — an ability to recharge the batteries and keep life interesting.
Of course, it doesn’t lend much time for catching up on the world in sports. (Thank goodness for cellular technology!) But I’ll be doing the best I can, same as always… but I can’t help to think, perhaps the world is just populated with guys like me who are perpetually on the run. How else do you explain the following story?
IF A TREE FALLS IN THE FOREST…
It might just be the most storied international event that seemingly nobody cares about right now. It might just be that the Commonwealth of Nations which were the components of the former British Empire has become obsolete, or the fact that the run-up to the 2010 edition of the Commonwealth Games was wrought with revelations of mismanagement as they arrived on the Subcontinent to take place for the first time in India. You’d think that a momentous occasion such as this, coming on the heels of the first African-held FIFA World Cup, would stir up a little more interest — amongst fans and the press. But unlike the World Cup, which incidentally was formed in parallel with the Commonwealth Games way back in 1930, the cr0wds have been sparse and media coverage has been sparse if existent in the first place.
With London set to host the 2012 Olympics two summers from now, the Commonwealth Games are the best chance for the prospective athletes of the 54 member countries to get a feel for the experience of a multi-sport festival prior to the big show. But depleted fields and exhaustively negative press have rendered the Commonwealth Games in Delhi largely a non-factor in the scope of things. I guess this begs a spin on the age-old question, “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” Namely, “If an international sports festival takes place, and nobody comes to watch or report on the events or generally give a damn, did that event have any relevance?”
Mind you, the athletes aren’t to blame for this — those few who have given even a cursory glance to the action in India have been treated to all that is good and bad in the world of sports. The locals were given the chance to rejoice when their women’s 4x400m relay team won India’s first track and field gold medal in the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday since Milkha Singh won the 440-yard dash in 1958. Their men stayed alive for the crown jewel of the gold medals in the national sport of field hockey, defeating England in penalties to advance to the final. They are guaranteed at least silver, the first medal in the hockey-mad country’s history in the Games. And the athletes from around the globe have all represented their countries with grace and dignity…
… well, most of them. As with any international competition, the specter of doping didn’t skip the Commonwealth Games. Rani Yadav, the race walker from the host country, found herself provisionally suspended from competition after her A sample turned up norandrosterone, an anabolic steroid, in her system. From the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, the few Indian fans that have deigned to turn up at the competition sites have been treated to every emotion they could possibly hope to experience from sport.
And then there was another instance of doping that muddled an already contentious result even further, just one of those things that can only be filed in the category TOO STRANGE TO BE FICTION. The women’s 100m run is the pure test of acceleration and top-end speed, and it was rendered moot after the fact — before the tests even came back. Australia’s Sally Pearson, who won the race, found herself disqualified three hours after the event for what was judged after the fact in the replay to be a false start. Thus the medal passed on to Osayemi Oludamola, a Nigerian who after the competition tested positive in both her A and B samples for the banned stimulant methylhexaneamine and has also been disqualified from the competition and faces a two-year ban for the drug in her system. Even after that settled, though, the result remains contentious — the bronze finisher, Natasha Mayers of St Vincent and the Grenadines, moved up to the gold in her first Commonwealth Games since coming back from a two-year ban from 2005-2007 after testing positive for testosterone.
All the stories are there, the spectrum of triumph and tragedy that is precisely what attracts us to sporting events. So why are we, the world’s collective sports fans, ignoring a tournament that could very well be providing us with some of the more endearing stories of the sports year? Here in the United States, at least, the non-participation of the Americans is a major factor, as is the confluence of the Games with baseball playoffs and midseason games in the NFL and college football and the start of the NHL regular season. (And hell… when you get down to it, wasn’t the American Revolution really just a big ”GO TO HELL!” to the very concept of Commonwealth?) But even the wider reaction — in Delhi itself, throughout the Commonwealth nations and globally — has centered either on the infrastructure and organizational dilemmas than on the successes in the competitions themselves.
[pullquote]All the stories are there, the spectrum of triumph and tragedy that is precisely what attracts us to sporting events. So why are we, the world’s collective sports fans, ignoring a tournament that could very well be providing us with some of the more endearing stories of the sports year?[/pullquote]Sebastian Coe, the two-time Olympic track champion and chief organizer of the 2012 London Olympics, has been one of the loudest champions out there of the Delhi Games. ”People shouldn’t underestimate how difficult it is to organise at this level and I think they’ve done a pretty good job. If we think it is worth building a global capacity in sport, and we think that that global capacity will encourage young people to get involved in sport and healthy lifestyles, then occasionally you have to take those sports out of their comfort zones. That’s clearly not going to be without its challenges but I think that is worth doing.”
Indeed, Mr. Coe, indeed. Sports are always touted as the great equalizer, and that’s exactly what we are finally recognizing in the locations of major tournaments as well as in the results within those tournaments. Management problems are hardly the exclusive provenance of the newcomers to host status. Everyone deals with their growing pains — just ask Montreal how well their Olympiad went off, the debts from which are now only finally starting to come off the books more than three decades later. Grift, largesse and poor construction planning often take budgets far beyond anticipated levels of spending. The real question, though, is how an event resonates with the local populace and the wider international community. If it can introduce a new sport to a willing and interested populace, spark greater physical activity amongst the greater society and provide them with legacy facilities that have at least some potential for public use, it is hard to classify an event as anything but a success.
But when that resonance registers barely a blip on the radar of national and international sports consciousness, what relevance did the event really have? Organizers have been embarrassed by photos online and in the paper showing competitions carrying on in front of absolutely nobody. In many instances the only spectators have been the guards on hand — apparently to protect athletes from themselves, since for there to be a threat you first have to have somebody show up to spectate. Although at this point, anyone who shows up to actually watch is so far from the norm as to seem suspicious.
So as the Games wind down, realize that an eight-decade pedigree is no guarantee of continued success into the future. Have the Commonwealth Games merely become obsolete? Is this simply a matter of an indifferent populace, improper planning or indecent appropriation? Whatever the cause, we’re quickly coming to grips with the fact that no sports event is guaranteed a place on the sports calendar forever. Already we’ve watch horse racing become a sideshow, and boxing wane in prominence, and cycling bombarded by its own good intentions in the public relations department as positive exam after positive exam saps gram after gram of credibility from its competitions. Past performance is no guarantee of future success, and perhaps we’re seeing the beginning of the end for the Commonwealth Games.
Let’s just hope, were this actually to be the tipping point that signals the demise of the Commonwealth Games, that this isn’t an instance where people start to bloviate on about how only the most wealthy of nations should be hosting events on a global magnitude. As South Africa showed us this summer, a rising power can rise to the occasion as a competent tournament host. (At what cost that comes to the society at large within its borders is another question deserving of its own dissertation sometime in the future.) To discount the unique flavor each country can add to the fabric of an international tournament (think vuvuzelas) is to shun the very reason that it was theoretically created.
So while the domestic landscape pulls you in every direction possible in one of the busiest times of the year for spectators, don’t forget that there is probably some neglected tournament out there which would love your attention if only you could sacrifice a minute or two to check out what they have to offer. Chances are you’ll find something just as interesting as what’s captivating you at the moment on home soil. It’s just a matter of willing yourself to find that few minutes to try something new…
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